The Tools in the Bottom of my Tool Chest - Popular Woodworking Magazine
 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Woodworking Blogs

The tools at the bottom of my chest are the heavy and expensive stuff – the planes and saws that get constantly used. At the back of the chest are my moulding planes. And the front wall of my chest has a tool rack that contains the stuff I need to grab without even looking at it.

Let’s start with that rack.

The Tool Rack
From left to right: My Lie-Nielsen chisels: 3/4”, 5/8”, 1/2”, 3/8”, 1/4” and a fishtail chisel for cleaning out half-blind dovetails. The truth is I use the 1/2” and the 1/4” chisels more than any other sizes.

There’s Czeck Edge traditional birdcage awl, which is quite handy when installing hardware. There are several small dividers and medium-sized dividers. Some are from Starrett; some are from other companies. Then there’s my Elemen’tary Design Screwdriver. It’s a lifesaver – one of my most worn and used tools.

Then you’ll find my Grace USA drivers. These are lifetime tools and remarkably inexpensive for the high quality (and they are made in the USA). You’ll pay about $35 for a set of five.

And finally, all the way to the right, are my Tite-Marks. Ridden to hell and back and still fantastic. Lots of people have ripped off Kevin Drake’s design and failed. Don’t bother buying a copy (you’ll sleep better at night, too).

The Sawtill
My sawtill holds five saws. The handsaws are from Wenzloff & Sons. The tenon, carcase and dovetail saw are all from Lie-Nielsen. I prefer the models with the tapered sawblades because they are less toe-heavy. While saws are a personal choice, I find that the Lie-Nielsens fit most human hands.

Also in my sawtill are tool rolls. I have my files and Auriou rasps there (a cabinet rasp, a modeller’s rasp and a rattail rasp). I usually keep my tool roll with auger bits in the sawtill as well (but it was out of the chest when I took this photo). I use WoodOwl augers and recommend them without any reservation. They fit in my brace and my electric drills.

The Moulding Planes
At the back wall are my moulding planes and my brace. The brace is a vintage Stanley that was made shortly after that company gobbled up the North Bros. Manufacturing Co. It’s a good brace and holds bits that are round, hexagonal and have tapered, square shafts.

Also back there are my moulding planes and a couple rabbet planes. I have  more moulders than I need, but I keep all these on hand because I fought hard to buy them and am not ready to give them up (I could easily do with a set about half as big).

Aside from my rabbet planes, which get used the most, here are the moulding planes I use most frequently: a 1/2” square ovolo, a 1/2” Roman ogee, 3/16” side bead, 1/4” side bead, Nos. 6 hollow and rounds, Nos. 10 hollows and rounds. Most of my moulding planes are from Old Street Tool (formerly Clark & Williams) and M.S. Bickford.

The Bench Planes
The center well of my tool chest holds the workhorses – the bench planes, joinery planes and specialty planes I use most often. I have a lot of Lie-Nielsen gear here: a No. 8, a No. 3 in bronze, a large shoulder plane, a No. 51 shooting plane and a large router plane.

I also have my Veritas Combination Plane and my old Stanley Type 11 No. 5, which has been with me for more than 20 years.

There are some things I don’t store in my tool chest – sharpening equipment, for one. My stones are always out in the shop because I don’t want to have any excuse not to sharpen. I also left out my coping saw and fretsaw – they were on my workbench when I took these photos.

I hope this series has been helpful. Mostly, I hope you don’t despair at the price tag for all of this stuff. It was purchased during a 22-year period as I slowly upgraded my tools from stuff I bought at a flea market to what you see here. You don’t need all the best stuff to build things. But if you stick with the craft for a long time, you’ll probably end up like me with a crazy combination of tools old and new, expensive and cheap.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 20 comments
  • Angelus

    I have your toolchest book, great by the way and very nice edition. But since I read it I am wondering something. I know that the purpose of such a chest is not as to move with it everyday as to store tools in a shop but I was wondering if you know the weight of your chest with all your tools inside. I’ll certainly build a chest like this one day and be able to answer this question myself but till then… And you seems to be a curious mind enough to find pleasure in such a useless question and answer! (I do!) Regards from France.

  • rpattillo

    For the Wood Owl auger bits, do you use an adapter to make them work better (or at all) with a traditional brace designed to accept tapered square shanks?

  • jdhanna

    How do you like the Veritas Combination plane? Do you just use it as a plow or some of the other cutters as well?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Love it. I use it for beading and reeding in softwoods and straight-grain hardwoods. And as a plow. It is an outstanding piece of kit. (Paid full retail. No kickbacks etc. etc.)

  • toddcg

    Thank you for sharing. I always enjoy your blog posts. No B.S. and always helpful. I especially appreciate the last paragraph. I’m just getting started in woodworking and I see everyone on Instagram or their blog posts with the new expensive tools. It’s easy to get tool envy. Thanks for pointing out that you can start with an inexpensive, not so great quality tool and upgrade at a later date.

  • Sergeant82d

    And because this is the Internet and we all have the luxury of beating you up for hindsight (or whatever), would you also please go over the secondary rack on the side of the sawtill? I see a mortising chisel, but what else is in there? Thanks!

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      There are a couple mortising chisels (both covered in the entry on the middle till), one wide 1-1/2″ chisel (from Blue Spruce – forgot to mention that), the Zona saw I discussed last week and a weirdo centerfinder I use for turning that is not currently available.

  • Brent

    I started woodworking has a hobby in 2007. Every year, I just get half a dozen or so smaller items plus 2 or 3 big ticket items($150-500) for my Birthday, Christmas, and sometimes Valentines and Father Days, the Wife rebels on last two she think cologne and cloths more romantic than brass and steel. So once, I stop the foolishness of eBay and vintage bench planes/chisels, and started focusing my purchase by making a list and prioritizing it, I built out my kit rather quickly.

  • MikeCashman

    Thanks for the detailed tour of your tool chest.
    Are you going to do the same for your traveling Dutch tool chest?
    And I think you might be missing one very important tool. The bottle opener.

  • Joe Leonetti

    Thanks Chris. Since you do a lot of woodwork it’s nice to see what you actually use. I don’t want to be a minimalist woodworker but I don’t want to be a collector either. Seeing your tools helps me to see the balance.

    I lucked out in that I discovered you and Paul Sellers just as I was finishing a remodel to my garage to do woodworking. I was prepared to go all power tools as I didn’t know there was another way. The hand tools made sense.

    Keep up the good work and helpful blogs. I don’t visit chat forums (tired of discussions in other hobbies on how may angles dance on the head of a pin and I doubt woodworking is any better) so the info I get is from your blog, Paul Sellers, Popular Woodworking, and Fine Woodworking, and Lost Art Press books. It’s enough and not too much that I start to feel overwhelmed with options.

  • SSteve

    How much does it weigh when everything’s packed in?

  • C. Stanley Plane

    Your tool chest is vacant of spokeshaves?
    Also not found is the No.62 and No.4.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      I use a No. 3 for smoothing and the No. 51 for shooting. As to spokeshaves, I keep them with my travisher and scorp.

  • dkdrew

    What happened to that great Wheeler, Madden and Clemson carcass saw?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      I still have it. I have it in the Dutch chest I use for travel.

  • Gregla

    Great series. Thank you. I didn’t see a fenced rabbet plane. Does the combination plane cover this, or the wooden rabbets?

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Yup. I use the straight rabbets for rabbeting.

      • Michael

        Did his replace your 48 & 49 T&G planes as well? I have the Veritas screwed rabbet but I am thinking this might replace that and cover the T&G planes as well.

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